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Basic Lighting Design

Creating anything worthwhile requires planning and design. You certainly would not remodel your home without designs and planning. If your house has the same old lights that have always been there, perhaps you are in need of a lighting “remodel”. Lighting is a powerful presence in your home. Not only will it simply keep the dark out; but it is the single most powerful tool to transform the look and feel of your home. Light is the most important element of design.

There are three basic, interrelated aspects to a successful lighting makeover: lighting planning, fixture selection and circuit design.

Lighting Planning
Decide which rooms or areas you want to relight. What type of lighting do you need in each space? Consider, generally, what you would like the new lighting to accomplish. Do you want to create a whole different mood with lighting or simply illuminate areas that are hard to see now? Do you want a cozy space or a relaxing room?

There are three types of light you need to consider in each space you plan. General lighting distributes illumination equally over an area. A ceiling light is an example. Task lighting provides focused light over a specific area that is bright enough for performing specific tasks. Desk lamps and under cabinet lighting are common task lighting fixtures. Accent lighting highlights an object, surface or small area you want noticed, such as a small spotlight on a wall portrait.

These three basic types of lights are the building blocks of your lighting remodeling project. Used in combination, they can produce dramatic results. Plan your lighting by jotting down which types of lighting you need in each room.

Space Restrictions, Current Lighting Trends and Fixture Selection
Once you have determined what type of light you need in each space, it’s time to choose your fixtures. In considering your fixtures, one must often make a trade off between style and ease of installation. If you are building a new home, installation options are wide open. If you are adding fixtures without remodeling (cutting holes in walls etc.), your options for adding power outlets etc. may be more limited. As more and more homes are remodeled every year, an increasing number of track lighting, monorail lighting and cable lighting solutions have evolved that don’t require the demolition and patching of walls.

Appropriate Fixtures for General Illumination:
Current lighting trends for general illumination include a shift away from fluorescent fixtures and standard incandescent fixtures to halogen fixtures. In fact, this is part of a larger overall trend towards using larger numbers of focused light sources rather than single, centralized fixtures. By using a large number of small task or accent lights, rooms are given a layered look which produces more depth than they used to have with a single central fixture.

Whether low voltage or line voltage fixtures are used, halogen lamps are available to ensure crisp, white light throughout your home. If you have existing ceiling fixtures that suit your general illumination needs and you like the style, replacement isn’t really warranted by the halogen shift…but if you are replacing fixtures anyway it’s worth moving to the new standard.

Sconces are another important type of fixture for general illumination. Sconces are great for wall “washing”; use them to illuminate traffic areas along hallways and up staircases. Although low voltage versions are emerging, wall sconces have, perhaps, evolved less than most fixtures that have been around for some time and most are still standard incandescent.

Appropriate Fixtures for Task Lighting:
Task lighting is an ideal candidate for track, cable or monorail lighting systems. These systems allow you to power multiple focused spot lights from a single existing circuit, they allow you to re-aim these lights as necessary and they are increasingly stylish. Current monorail systems are extremely functional and can be used as a design element themselves. If you have a particularly difficult ceiling, consider a cable lighting system which can be mounted almost anywhere to provide light across a wide area.

Kitchen lighting can be complicated, but most task lighting issues in the work areas can be rectified with under cabinet lighting. Current under cabinet options have moved past the ugly, cold fluorescent lighting of the past, halogen and xelogen options are now available to produce warm glow for the entire kitchen.

Pendants using anterior reflector bulbs (spot lights) are also good choices for task lighting. These are commonly called downlight pendants and, again, are emerging in popularity as low voltage lighting grows in popularity.

Accent Lighting Fixtures:
When lighting small objects or spaces, or when you are trying to draw the eye to specific areas of a room, consider low voltage halogen track fixtures in lower wattages or ambient pendant fixtures. In lower wattages (35 watts or less) low voltage track heads can be an ideal solution for accent lighting. They allow multiple heads to be used to illuminate small pieces of art or areas of a room.

Pendants using non-directional (ambient) light bulbs (commonly called ambient pendants) are also very popular as accent lighting. The nature of these pendants allows richly colored hand-blown glass shades to be gently illuminated from within to dramatic effect. These fixtures create a natural focal point in any room and are ideally used over a bar or table.

Finally, recessed fixtures are a good choice for accent lighting. They allow focused light to be cast on walls, artwork and surfaces.

Circuit Design - Control Different Lighting Classes Separately
Circuit design can be a complicated topic for new construction. Consult your electrician or architect in that case. For remodeling or simple lighting upgrades, the circuits are already in place so consumer options are limited.

One final current trend in lighting is for almost all fixtures to be put on dimmers. Putting fixtures on dimmers allows light to be varied in different ways for different moods. Adding dimmers is easily done without rewiring your home.

One rule to remember when adding fixtures or planning original circuits is to endeavor to keep lighting for general illumination, task lighting and accent lighting on separate circuits. By adjusting the light level of each of these three classes of lighting, you can easily vary the mood of a room. Functional, relaxed or intimate…any mood can be achieved by balancing the three types of light.

Planning and designing your lighting makeover, when done with care, is fun and the results can be stunning. Go ahead, try something new and see yourself in a new light.

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